Osteoarthritis is highly prevalent amongst the global population, with over 20 million patients estimated to be affected in the US alone. Cartilage deterioration has remained a barrier to treatment, as researchers found no way to regrow or slow the deterioration of chondral tissue, and many patients have had to resort to joint replacement surgery to find relief from pain.

However, engineers from MIT have recently designed a new type of material that could penetrate damaged cartilage, to deliver healing drugs to damaged cells more directly.

Cartilage regeneration: new nanomaterial

The experimental drug, called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), delivered through the new material, prevents cartilage breakdown more effectively than even directly injecting the joint. IGF-1 has shown promise in previous trials, but still fell short of expectations until the MIT teams use of the new material. They suspect that the spherical molecules of the material allow it to bind more effectively with cartilage, allowing the drug to attach to the surface of the tissue effectively. However, when merely injected into a joint, the drug is more likely to diffuse.

So far the researchers have had great success in treating degenerated tissue in their animal subjects, but they have demonstrated that their material can be effective on humans’ thicker joints. The researchers expect that their new treatment, although initially developed to treat osteoarthritis arising from trauma, could also treat osteoarthritis found in elderly patients.

Cartilage regeneration is currently encouraged through the use of medical devices such as platelet-rich plasma injections, extracellular matrix implants, allografts, and marrow stimulation drills. However, new drug delivery methods could greatly improve the effectivity of treatment. GlobalData estimates that the global market for orthobiologic devices is worth $5.6b, and could experience strong growth if patients are guaranteed more effective solutions to cartilage deterioration than what is currently on the market.